Taking Stock

Recently, a friend me asked why I’d stopped blogging, adding that she’d enjoyed reading my thoughts and musings. I’d not stopped blogging, not consciously anyway. So I said, why did you not tell me before? If it’s taken you all these years to let me know, can you blame me for taking a break? I added. Various optional activities had been temporarily postponed as Life had taken over. Nor did I know if anyone read my blog. Yet the moment I was faced with the question, I realised years had elapsed. Over three, to be precise, since my last entry. Conventional blog wisdom suggests one write frequently and regularly.

Taking into account the existence of innumerable professional bloggers, the question I have to ask myself is what is the purpose of my blog? Does it matter if I post something or not? Is it a meaningful way of spending my time or measuring my life? Can blogs provide a defence against Time that slips away regardless of what we do? The answers were not reassuring. My blog is simply another way of expressing myself. And if anyone reads and responds, then perhaps there is a purpose to it.

When I first began exploring the concept of blogging four years ago, I had no plans to write about myself – there was plenty else to write about and there still is. Though I firmly believe that everything we think/ say/ do/write reveals ‘us’ more than the ‘other’. Before I get diverted into a philosophical meditation on subjective versus objective in our way of perceiving the world, may I clarify that I am writing this for those who visit my website and occasionally browse through my blog. Besides, my friend deserves an explanation for my long silence. I don’t know where to start – except to confess that ‘life’ intervened. This stock taking is also proving to be an interesting exercise for me. As you may have guessed, this is personal.

When I moved into my flat some twenty odd years ago, I had no idea how lucky I’d been in finding this place. The developers who converted the 130-year old house into four flats had done a good job. However, a time comes when renovation becomes necessary. It all started with the need to renovate the external parts of the building, especially the roof. And once you start doing the outside, you end up having to make good the inside. It had taken years to get all the freeholders to agree that something had to be done, the cost of the external work being a shared cost. Two flat-owners had impeded progress, initially. It was only after they moved out was it possible to arrive at some consensus. That took over five years, during which time I donated, discarded, gifted as many of my possessions as I could. Living in one place for years meant I’d accumulated far too many things without realising it. Must have donated forty cartons of books!

Anyway, even after making what seemed like progress, the other freeholders were not interested in hiring an architect or supervisor to find a builder, making sure the renovation was done properly. As I live on the top floor and the roof needed to be replaced, and no one else was going to take on the role of getting quotes etc, I ended up having to do the job. Water was already seeping in and damaging our walls. It was a major undertaking and harder than any job I have done. I know life is unfair, but never did I imagine I’d have to do such a difficult and thankless job. Before the roof work was completed, the damage to my ceiling as a direct result of the roof replacement was extensive, which the builder never made good and my neighbours could not care less. Without going into details, let it suffice to say that the endless twists and turns of this saga has left me thoroughly disillusioned. I cannot find words to express my despair. Wish life did not have to teach so many harsh lessons. If ignorance is bliss…

Having grown up in India, I knew all about neighbours going to war. Yet, the last few years have made me appreciate more than ever the merit of Indian philosophical teachings contained, for example, in the Bhagavad Gita. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the benefit of Krishna directing me through my personal battles. On the contrary, it felt as if whatever support structures I had started to crumble away. I was left to do my best on my own. Maybe, that is what Krishna meant – so show me the world for what it is. But too much reality is also not good for the soul.

Despite the universe’s optimism in me, the building work kept gnawing away at my reserves, leaving a massive and dark chasm. It demanded so much of me – my time, energy, money – I’d not have believed it if I’d not experienced it. I still have loads of unpacking to do – could take me years to reclaim not just my flat but my sanity and faith in humanity. Makes you think if I should’ve moved somewhere else. I’d thought about it for years, but found no answers. As I like my flat and the area, I couldn’t find a compelling reason to plant myself elsewhere. I have survived – only just – but the renovation project was so stressful I’ve acquired all sorts of health complaints from chronic back pain to exhaustion. My tiredness has reached levels I never thought was possible.

The fact I’ve not had a holiday during this time has not helped. My only visit to India was marred by family illnesses. As if that was not worrying enough, my BT email was repeatedly compromised while I was in India. And the hackings went on after my return for well over a year, even after I stopped using my BT email and deleted my entire contact list. It was incredibly unsettling as if someone was breaking and entering your home on a regular basis, yet the police (BT) kept saying they couldn’t help, that I may have to move! BT was directly liable for exposing user credentials while switching their customers from the shared Yahoo-BT platform to a BT one. Yet, they did nothing. In hindsight, instead of dealing with all these time consuming issues, I should’ve blogged about them.

What else has happened over the past three years? I was elected as a trustee of the Poetry Society in September 2011. Not sure if this counts as a good thing or bad? But, it was a rare thing – an election by members of the Poetry Society to appoint a board of trustees. The Society was on the verge of collapse which necessitated such drastic action. The three years I spent as a trustee proved enlightening. The poetry world rarely ceases to surprise with its ‘animal spirits’ – not unlike the banking world, really. Just the stakes are measured differently. As I believe firmly in fixed and short terms for all the main posts within the Poetry Society, which is still largely publicly funded via the Arts Council, when my 3-year term ended in September 2014, it was time to step down. Thankfully, the Society was back in good health.

Poetry in the House took up loads of time and energy. For those who don’t know the background, it was in 1995, after the collapse of Barings, my employer at the time, that I discovered Lauderdale House. I had until then woken up in the morning, gone to work, returned home to sleep. My holidays were spent visiting family in India. It was not until my job disappeared did I have time to explore Highgate. One day while taking a walk in Waterlow Park, I wandered into Lauderdale House. A local community centre, they had an art exhibition on. I noticed brochures on music and other social activities but nothing on poetry. I requested to meet the manager, and when I asked her why they did not hold poetry readings, she suggested I take on that role. One thing led to another and I began hosting poetry readings at the House on a voluntary basis in June 1996. I have been hosting readings at the House every month since.

Over the last three years alone I’ve had the pleasure of presenting the following poets and translators at Lauderdale House: Timothy Adès, Astrid Alben, Martin Alexander, Mir Mahfuz Ali, Moniza Alvi, Mona Arshi, Neil Astley, Tiffany Atkinson, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Briony Bax, Chris Beckett, Clare Best, Julia Bird, Paul Birtill, D M Black, Siddhartha Bose, Helen Burke, Dan Burt, Marianne Burton, James Byrne, Vahni Capildeo, Debjani Chatterjee, Ruth Christie, David Constantine, Wendy Cope, Ian Crockatt, Martyn Crucefix, Tim Cunningham, Neil Curry, Peter Daniels, Mona Dash, Roy Davids, Imitaz Dharker, Hu Dong, Billy Doyle, Sarah Doyle, Nick Drake, Jane Draycott, Sasha Dugdale, Jane Duran, Elaine Feinstein, Anthony Fisher, Mark Fisher, Matthew Francis, Bashabi Fraser, Wendy French, Leah Fritz, Isabel Galleymore, John Greening, Jane Griffiths, Eve Grubin, Lucy Hamilton, Philip Hancock, David Harsent, John Harvey, Deirdre Hines, Emily Hinshelwood, Norbert Hirschhorn, Lynne Hjelmgaard, Lakshmi Holmstrom, Robin Houghton, Sarah Howe, Sue Hubbard, George Jackson, Christopher James, Maria Jastrzebska, Simon Jenner, Kavita Jindal, Mimi Khalvati, Lance Lee, Shirley Lee, Jenny Lewis, Mike Loveday, Hannah Lowe, Tom Lowenstein, Edward Mackay, Lachlan Mackinnon, Maitreyabandhu, Kathryn Maris, Nancy Mattson, Gill McEvoy, Christine McNeill, Andrew McNeillie, Allison McVety, Gordon Meade, John Menaghan, Joan Michelson, Reza Mohammadi, Kim Moore, Cheryl Moskowitz, Sir Andrew Motion, Paul Munden, Alan Murray, William Oxley, Kathleen Quinlan, Geraldine Paine, Nigel Pantling, Mario Petrucci, Peter Phillips, Ann Pilling, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Maurice Riordan, Jeremy Robson, Jay Rogoff, Sue Rose, Anthony Rudolf, Carol Rumens, Declan Ryan, Lesley Saunders, Robert Saxton, Michael Schmidt, Myra Schneider, Seni Seneviratne, James Simpson, Richard Skinner, Penelope Shuttle, Caroline Smith, Jean Sprackland, Robert Stein, Anne Stevenson, Will Stone, Janet Sutherland, Kay Syrad, David Swann, Roisin Tierney, Sarah Wardle, Stephen Watts, Ralf Webb, John Whitworth, Stephen Wilson, Jennifer Wong, Ann Wroe, Jane Yeh, Tamar Yoseloff. I hate to think how long the list will be if I included all the names since 1996! It is on my website if anyone wishes to explore.

As Lauderdale House is closing for major renovation work soon, the last poetry reading I presented was on 22 July – readings from the Mahabharata, retold and translated by Carole Satyamurti. Mimi Khalvati, D.M. Black, Martin Wilkinson and I read extracts chosen by Carole. Before she lost her voice to laryngectomy, a recording of her reading extracts from the Mahabharata was made. It was wonderful to hear her read extracts from this extraordinary epic.

The Mahabharata, the ancient world’s longest, and arguably greatest, epic poem, was composed in India about 2000 years ago. Seven times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined (and, according to one scholar, ‘a hundred times more interesting) it is a compelling story of heroism, rivalry, love, wickedness, spiritual teaching and much more beside. At its heart is the Bhagavad Gita, the most important single religious text for Hindus. In a new verse retelling, Carole Satyamurti has rendered the epic for modern readers, aiming to convey the richness and power of the original. Philip Pullman has said of it, ‘She has found a voice . . . that propels the reader effortlessly onward through the cosmic, earthy, terrifying, erotic, sublime events of this extraordinary work’. It was my good fortune to be able to end the year with this event which was attended by almost a hundred people. In answer to a question regarding what she felt about her version of the Mahabharata, Carole replied that she had done her best. The standing ovation she received expressed the verdict of the audience.

As every poet/ writer knows, the process of writing, often a struggle by itself, is compounded by the struggle to find a publisher. Subsequent concerns regarding getting reviewed, winning prizes, being invited to read at festivals, interviewed on radio are secondary issues. For most these are the kind of problems that are worth having. Though I am working on my New & Selected Poems, due for publication in 2016, I also have two full length collections of poems awaiting publication. As my last collection of poems appeared in 2010, it feels like a lifetime waiting for the next to appear. I can take comfort from the fact that while I’ve been facing problems of Himalayan proportions in several aspects of my life, I have been compensated to some extent by my poems appearing in various publications.

Over the past three years, my work has been featured in Acumen (Acumen also published an interview with me by William Oxley), Agenda, ArtemisPoetry, Asia Literary Review, Bengal Lights, Chiaroscuro Magazine, Confluence, Dance of the Peacock: An Anthology of English Poetry from India, Envoi, HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, Indian Literature, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Kavya Bharati, Live Life – The Daydreamer’s Journal: An International Anthology of Short Stories and Poetry for Charity, London Grip, Message in a Bottle, Mirrors and Lamps: Global Perspectives, Morphrog 10, Muse India, Objet-d’-Art, Orbis, Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe anthology), Poetry Pacific, PN Review, Prosopisia, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Skylark Publications Suvarnarekha, The Book of Love & Loss, The Brown Critique, The Challenge, The French Literary Review, The Interpreters’ House, The Istanbul Review, The Little Magazine, The Missing Slate, The Poetry Shed, The Second Genesis: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry, The Spectator, The Warwick Review, The World Poets Quarterly, World Anthology of Poems on Global Harmony and Peace, To Catch A Poem, Under the Radar, Urthona Magazine, Wings Over The Mahanadi: Eight Odia-English Poets. My sincere thanks to all the editors who by publishing my work unwittingly saw me through this difficult time.

As a writer, one inevitably needs to read, think, write and attend various literary and cultural events. As someone interested in the arts, living in London can be a huge distraction. For someone who used to see a play every other week before, I’ve barely seen any during the last three years. There were not many that I desperately wanted to see, and the few I did I could not get tickets for love or money. The ones I saw were at the invitation of friends who already had tickets, and they include Masterclass, Written on the Heart, Fences, The Lady killers, One Man, Two Guvnors, Drawing the Line and Dara.

My apologies for so many lists, but here are more about visits to exhibitions, concerts etc. Exhibitions I managed to see were: Picasso & Modern British Art (Tate Britain), Damien Hirst (Tate Modern), Edvard Munch (Tate Modern), Shakespeare: Staging the World (British Museum), Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire (British Library), Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Britain), Manet (Royal Academy), Ice Age Art and Life & Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum (British Museum), Treasures of the Royal Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum), David Bowie (Victoria and Albert Museum), Lowry (Tate Britain), Stanley Spencer – Heaven in a Hell of War (Somerset House), M.F. Hussain (V&A), Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (an installation of poppies for WWI commemoration at the Tower of London) and the Summer Exhibitions (Royal Academy).

It was quite an occasion to be invited by Jay Visvadeva to the Sachal Jazz ensemble play Take Five, along with other numbers, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This was followed a year later with Wynton Marsalis and Sachal Jazz at the Barbican Hall. I also heard Madhup Mudgal (Purcell Room), Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and the Gundecha Brothers at the QEH. Many thanks to Jay for making all that possible. The music world would be poorer without his contribution. On my way back from India in 2014, I attended the Beating Retreat ceremony in Delhi with my good friend, Keki Daruwalla. I was also taken to quite an amazing show, involving traditional Chinese martial arts, aerial ballet, dance and music, called Legend of the Kung Fu, at the Kingdom of Dreams in Gurgaon by my brother and his family.

For someone who loves films and TV drama, I saw the following films in a cinema: The Artist, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Marley, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Legacy, Anna Karenina, To Rome with Love, Skyfall, Great Expectations, Life of Pi, Midnight’s Children, Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserable, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Great Gatsby, Satyagraha, About Time, Diana, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, Lucy, The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, Selma, Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Still Alice, Woman In Gold, Far From The Madding Crowd. This does not include the hours spent watching films on TV, including dramas such as Downton Abbey, Homeland, The Hour, Humans, Odyssey, Partners in Crime. Not possible to list everything I watched – it was literally a lifeline.

So, this is an attempt to explain why I’ve not had time for blogging. If people read and look forward to my posts then going forward, I hope to pick up from where I left off. I have not mentioned a word about money/ the inevitability of bills and expenses or my novel. The background to the publication of my first novel, A World Elsewhere, would be an interesting story if not a novel on its own. For now, I request you to read A World Elsewhere. It has received some good reviews already, do have a look at the novel page. Your support will make all the difference.

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